Compassion


If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

– Dali Lama

Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.

– Dali Lama

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” – Thomas Merton

Dictionary.com defines compassion as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” I definitely agree that compassion incorporated the strong feeling to alleviate the suffering of others. However, I feel that compassion is much deeper than a “feeling of deep sympathy or sorrow”. Compassion is deeper that “pity” or sympathy alone. When we show compassion to another, we understand the other’s feelings as a part of the human condition. Compassion arises out of the awareness that all people have the possibility to experience the same range of human experience all human experiences and human emotions. Compassion allows understanding of another person’s perspective since we can imagine ourselves reacting to the situation in a similar manner. Compassion is the desire to relieve another’s suffering. We can demonstrate compassion when another person is experiencing great anger, frustration, as well as sadness and loss.

When you demonstrating compassion, you perceive yourself as an equal to the one you are demonstrating compassion for. For example, if we feel compassion for someone who is homeless and down on their luck, we understand that we too could be homeless and it a similar situation. When friends or family make poor decisions (such as engaging in addictive patterns), compassion allows us to see that we have the same possibility to make similar decisions. When we interact with other people compassionately, others are able to feel supported in a non-judgmental fashion. Others can feel our intention to alleviate their suffering.

Compassion can be seen as the emotional equivalent of “the Golden Rule”. As Karen Armstrong from charterforcompassion.org has stated “Always treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself … Don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you”. Compassion can be viewed as reacting to all others as if they are your self.

What are the benefits of compassion?

First, there are emerging studies that show that compassionate behavior and compassionate meditation are good for our health. In a study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, it was demonstrated that “individuals who engage in compassion meditation may benefit by reductions in inflammatory and behavioral responses to stress that have been linked to depression and a number of medical illnesses”(link) In another study of 59 women, it was found that those who demonstrated high levels of compassion for others were more receptive to social support, enabling them to better handle acute psychological stress and maintain overall well-being, according to psychologists at the University of Maine, University of California – Berkeley and University of California – San Francisco (link).

Second, compassion can help us influence the interactions that we have with others. When we choose a compassionate response when another person gets upset, we are more likely going to have a neutral or understanding response. By responding in this manner, we are more likely to be able to diffuse a potential conflict. Additionally, when we react to others compassionately, we are more likely to build rapport with that person.

Finally, the more compassionate we are, the more compassion we bring into the world. As Ghandi is often quoted “be the change you want to see in the world.” By being more compassionate, we model how to be compassionate and those who are within our zone of influence are more likely to respond compassionately to us.

The next time someone gets angry with you, resist the temptation to engage in a defensive response. Consider what circumstances brought the other person to get angry. Imagine how you would feel in a similar situation. Then focus on the intention of elevating the other person’s suffering. Your compassionate response is not only good for your own health, but it has the opportunity to strengthen your interpersonal relationships and help facilitate a more compassionate world.

Please share your comments on this topic! I am grateful for any insight you may have.

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2 Comments to “Compassion”

  1. This is so true. I had a lady bring me to my knees with compassion. I was being particularly ugly (not feeling good, and certainly not wanting to be standing in line at the checkout counter) and among my grumbling, she touched my hand, sweetly smiled, and said, “Honey, I don’t know why you are having such a bad day, but I certainly hope it gets better”. I felt so ashamed for having been so nasty, but she really did change the course of my day. Things did get better. And she left with me a memory, that I’ve often used dealing with others at times when the shoe was on the other foot. Compassion is contagious.

  2. Loved it. Compassion can only teach others to be compassionate back.

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